Show And Feel

March 28, 2011

American kids have a huge advantage in public speaking because from a young age, they have to “show and tell” – that is, they bring something to school, stand up in front of their class, show the object, and tell the class all about it. This should be mandatory in all schools, including high schools where many teenagers sadly unlearn the creativity and fearlessness of their childhood.

There’s another thing that presenters need to know, and that’s what I’m going to call “show and feel”. No, I am not suggesting you get tactile with your audience.

It’s quite simply that audiences will naturally tend to copy the presenter’s emotions. This is mainly down to the recently-discovered mirror neurons, which produce the same feeling when we see someone else experience something as we feel when we experience it ourselves.

I was reminded of this recently when I was at the Comédie Française watching Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. At one point Falstaff was about to take a swig of wine which he had previously found very unpleasant, and which he had doubtless forgotten. As he raised the bottle to his lips, I found that I was screwing up my eyes and nose, just like the lady in the picture above. I was feeling the disgust which Falstaff was feeling. My mirror neurons were in action.

Apply this to presenting. If you appear bored, your audience will feel bored. If you look like you really don’t want to be there, your audience won’t want to be there either.

If when you say “I’m excited about this” you sound more like Marvin the Paranoid Android than Steve Jobs, nobody will believe you are excited, and they won’t be excited either.

On the other hand, if you appear passionate about your idea, if you look like you are enjoying yourself and feeling comfortable, if you smile at appropriate times, then your audience will most likely mirror those positive emotions.

Yesterday a student in one of my classes gave a presentation where he was smiling almost all the time, laughing from time to time, and was clearly very enthusiastic about his subject. I just couldn’t help enjoying it. On the other hand, at one of the TEDx events I worked at last year, one presenter took the stage in a very bad mood, and hated his talk as much as the audience did.

If you want your audience to enjoy your talk, enjoy it yourself  - visibly. Show positive emotions, and your audience will mirror them.


Perfecting Your Pitch

March 11, 2011

Most campers pitch tents. These pitch start-ups. They are the entrepreneurs at Le Camping, the latest start-up accelerator in Paris, and my role (together with Pierre Morsa) is to help them to make a fantastic pitch on Investor Day, when they will compete for attention from various investors, and hopefully attract funding to develop their businesses.

After our latest coaching session yesterday, I’m pleased to say they have made great strides in terms of using attractive, simple and relevant slides, with few words (in most cases) and some good use of graphics. They have also mostly worked on their introductions, although some can (and must) still make them more memorable and catchy.

Some are still looking back at their slides too often, and there are still plenty of ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ to iron out. That will improve with more practice.

Four things in particular are missing though from most of the pitches, and I’d encourage everyone to think about these points in terms of your own presentations (pitches or otherwise), because they are the difference between a good performance and a great one.

Four Steps From Good To Great

1. Adapt your content to meet your audience’s objectives. They are still spending too much time talking about their products or ideas. This isn’t a sales pitch. Investors want to know you have a product that can make money, of course, but it’s the money that’s the key point there, not the product. Your product is not your business plan – it is just a way of giving investors confidence that you can achieve your business plan.

While for you it might be your big idea, for an investor it is only your first idea – and hopefully not your last. It might turn out not to work, or a major competitor with a huge cashpile might choose to enter the same market and squash you. What investors need to know is that you are smart enough to come up with other ideas and make them work if the first one doesn’t. They are investing, above all, in a team, not in a product. Better a great team with an average idea than an average team with a great idea, as investors often say. So tell them why they should trust you with their cash.

2. Vision. If I’m investing in you and your company, I want to know it’s a good bet not just now, but for the future. I want to bet on someone who’s going to make it big, or who at least will give it a damn good try. If your vision is limited to “we’re going to launch this product”, that doesn’t give me much long-term confidence. Aim high. Investors don’t want small wins – their choices fail so often that it’s only big wins that make up for the losses. Better to have a 1% chance of being a $billion company than a 20% chance of being a $10million company.

So docTrackr, for example, should not just aim to sell a great document security solution. Yawn, so what? But if they stated a vision to be the world leader in document security within 3 years, and to be bought out by Microsoft, Adobe or Google within 5 years, then as an investor, that would make me sit up and take interest.

3. Passion. If you’re trying to make me enthusiastic about your investment opportunity, I need to know and feel that you are enthusiastic about it. If you present as if you either don’t believe in it, don’t care about it, or don’t want it, then I’m not going to want it either.

Don’t be quiet. Don’t be monotonous. Don’t be boring. Enthusiasm is contagious, so if you present like you really believe this is an exciting investment opportunity and you have a fantastic team, your audience might start to believe it too. Boredom, on the other hand, is even more contagious. So if you sound flat and boring, the audience will just use your talk as an opportunity to check their email.

Be passionate. Don’t be afraid to show that you care and that you believe.

4. A great conclusion. Too many of the pitches are currently just dying, as if the speaker has run out of things to say, or run out of time. Yet the conclusion will determine whether people remember something, or nothing. So it absolutely has to be brilliant.

“OK, so that’s it. Er, any questions?”

“And that was my last slide.”

These do not make good conclusions.

“That was our introduction to Perspecteev. We make money by helping people take care of their money. Now we’d like to take care of yours. Thankyou.”

This was one of the better conclusions. It was a clear end-point, it reminded the audience of the company name and its tag-line, and it used a neat play on words to remind investors that they’re looking for funding (which was explained earlier in the pitch).

The conclusion is an opportunity to remind people of your key points. In an investor pitch, particularly in a context where there are 11 other pitches happening in the same session, your key points are:

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • what you need
  • why they should give it to you

If any of those questions remains unanswered at the end, or the audience forgets the answers, you have failed. Your conclusion should remind people of these points. Remember Lewis Carroll: “What I say three times is the truth.” Say something three times, and you significantly increase the chances of it being remembered. Say something once, however, and expect it to be forgotten. So use the conclusion to state your key points for the third time – or at least for the second time.

Think of your talk as a matchstick. When you light a match, it sparks brightly, and then starts burning slowly along the stick. That’s your high-impact introduction and the middle part of your talk. But a typical match will then just burn out. So your talk has to be like a double-headed match, with a bright, high-impact conclusion to match the introduction.

Lastly, in a context like this where the pitches will happen in front of a large audience, with no Q&A session, the intention is not to finish presenting and start discussing: each presenter should aim to leave the stage to a large round of applause. I’d therefore point you to this article where I talk about the importance of applause and how to make sure you get the audience to clap.

Adapting to your audience’s objectives, communicating vision, presenting with passion, and nailing a great conclusion: if the Campers can get these four points right in the next few weeks, they’ll be ready for Investor Day. If you can get them right for your next talk – whatever it is – you’ll turn a good presentation into a great one.


Adapt To Your Audience

March 4, 2011

Good presenters adapt to their audience. Bad presenters expect their audience to adapt to them.

It’s a simple truth but sadly few presenters truly understand it. A presenter who genuinely takes the time to understand his or her audience, their needs, their expectations, their prejudices, their generalizations, their cultural filters, their language and their knowledge – such a presenter is worth his or her weight in gold.

 

As I was teaching this principle to a group of executives at HEC Paris this week, I was asked a very good question:

If American and Japanese cultures and expectations are so different, why is it that Americans are so successful at doing business in Japan?

Now I’m not sure I’d agree that American companies have had great success in Japan – having worked at HP and tried to compete with the likes of Canon, Ricoh, Kyocera et al, I know first-hand that Japan is a tough market even for the biggest American companies. But I do remember from living in Tokyo that the large Western expat community there did seem to adapt well to the local culture – better, perhaps, than the equally large expat community I knew in Brussels. Fellow presentation expert Garr Reynolds is a fine example of an American who fully embraces and celebrates Japanese culture.

So it’s a valid question. Here’s the answer I came up with. I believe that expats in Japan adapt well simply because the difference in cultures is so wide, it is obvious that they need to make an effort. Therefore they do make an effort, and they show respect for their hosts’ way of life. Also, their hosts’ expectations are not always very high, so they are pleasantly surprised and indeed honoured when their expat guests do make such an effort.

On the other hand, expats in Western Europe (I speak as a Brit living now in my fourth European country) tend not to make such an effort to adapt, since they don’t notice so much of a culture gap. I do my best – my latest attempt to adapt to France is learning to play ‘belote’, a popular card game here – but I know well that many expats in France make no effort even to learn French, let alone adapt to the way of life.

So to summarize, when the culture gap is wide we realise we need to make an effort to adapt, and that effort is appreciated; whereas when the culture gap is quite small, little or no effort is made, and it is this lack of effort – more than the cultural difference – which is held against us.

Apply this to a presentation. When Steve Jobs goes to Japan, he ditches his familiar jeans and black T-shirt, and wears a suit because that is what is expected there. If you’re going to present to a group of Japanese businessmen, dress smart, be modest, and don’t expect any questions – even if that’s not your usual style.

But more than that, for any presentation at all, think first of your audience. Start not from what you know or what you want to tell them, but from where they are, and what they will benefit most from hearing. Don’t just adopt your usual style, but work out what will be best appreciated by that audience, and adapt your style accordingly. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s not much difference between you and them. That’s exactly the mistake most people make.

Remember, it’s not your presentation: it’s theirs. Give them something that suits them. Not only will they notice and appreciate your effort to adapt, they might also get your message and do something with it.


Keep it simple…

February 9, 2011

“Simplicity,” said Leonardo da Vinci, “is the ultimate sophistication.” This is extremely important for your presentations. The more you can keep them simple, the better you will communicate your message(s).

This doesn’t mean making things simpler for you, the presenter (although there is plenty you can do to make your life easier). It means making things simpler for the audience – after all, the presentation is for them, not you, right?

Unnecessary complexity hinders communication and just plain annoys people. I was reminded of this by my experience yesterday with the French bureaucracy. We need to renew my son’s French passport, but before we can make the application, we need his birth certificate which has to be less than three months old. Odd.

To get this certificate, we had a choice. Either we could send a stamped addressed envelope and they would send it to us, or we could go to the nearest large town and get one printed there and then, which I chose to do. I showed my passport, gave his date of birth, and a very nice lady printed the certificate. So far, not too painful.

However, then I have to go to a different town hall to apply for the passport. Why couldn’t that be one transaction? I could just turn up with son and passport and make the application, and if they needed a birth certificate, they could print it there and then. Or even better, they could accept the original birth certificate rather than requiring one less than three months old (in other countries, you get a birth certificate at birth, and you keep it for life). Where’s the benefit to anyone of me going to get the certificate beforehand?

And the icing on the cake: before applying for the passport, we need to buy special stamps, not from the town hall, not from the post office, but from a ‘tabac’ (cigarette shop)! I’m sure there was a logic behind the design of this whole process, but it certainly wasn’t the logic of making it simple for the citizen.

Compare this with renewing their British passports, which involves sending a form by registered post with their expired passports. And they take credit cards. You’d think living in France it would be easier to renew their French passports, but it’s many times more complex.

France is a lovely country but of the five countries I have lived and worked in, it is by far the least simple for the citizen. Now, since I chose to live here, I just have to live with the bureaucracy, although I don’t have to like it. However, if the French bureaucracy were an application’s user interface, it would have no chance against well-designed competitors. And if it were a presentation, nobody would listen.

So back to presentations. Your job as the presenter is to make things as simple as possible for your audience so they understand your message. This means designing it with your audience in mind, and removing all unnecessary complexity. You can’t get all the details across in a presentation – good presentations have simple clear messages and few details – and if you try to include them all, people will likely remember very few of them. The old maxim “If you chase too many rabbits, you won’t catch any” is extremely relevant to a presentation.

Here are three tips to make it simple for your audience to understand and remember your messages:

  1. Choose one, two or three key messages, and make it clear what they are. No more than three. Don’t leave your audience thinking “So what?” or “What was her point?” – leave the audience in no doubt about the points you are making. Repeat them as well: state your key messages at least twice, and then once again in your conclusion. You’ll be amazed how this simple technique increases the audience’s retention of your messages.
  2. Use simple visuals. Get rid of all the unnecessary complexity in your slides – the visual pollution such as the date, your name and your logo, any words which don’t need to be there, any data points on a graph which are not absolutely necessary to get your message across, etc. The simpler your slides are, the more memorable they will be, and the more your audience will actually listen to what you are saying.
  3. Associate each message with an image. A large proportion of your audience will likely be visual thinkers, and it will be much easier for them to remember your messages if each of them is shown together with a powerful and relevant image. This could be a photograph, or it could be a simple and clear graph for example.

For example, I often use this image to convey the message that you should only make one point at a time when presenting, just like you only write or draw with one pencil at a time. It’s a simple message, which I tend to repeat, and the image makes it easier to remember.

RECAP

Design your presentation with your audience’s understanding in mind. Make it simple for them to know what your key messages are, to understand them, and to remember them. Do this by choosing up to three key messages, and repeating them; simplifying your visuals; and associating each message with an image.

Unlike bureaucracy, which we just have to live with, nobody has to listen to your presentation. They have many other things they can be doing instead, and unnecessary complexity will turn them off quickly. Make it simple for them, and they will be happy to listen – and grateful that you make their life easier.


Video: Introduction to Presentation Skills

January 31, 2011

Nobody knows the value of a great presentation better than an entrepreneur. Convincing investors and prospective customers to part with their cash and take a punt on something new and unknown takes great powers of persuasion. How many great ideas never came to market because their purveyors failed their pitch?

I’m therefore particularly pleased that Le Camping, the new Paris-based start-up accelerator, has placed such importance on the quality of the pitch, and even more pleased that they have asked Ideas on Stage (Pierre Morsa and myself) to coach the twelve teams.

Below you’ll find the first talk I gave them about the art of presenting. This doesn’t focus on the investor pitch in particular – that will come later – but it was aimed to give them a sense of dissatisfaction with the ‘received wisdom’ of how to present, and a thirst for more theory and practice so they can hone their pitches ready for ‘Investor Day’ and for their first customers. For anyone else, it’s a free 90-minute introduction to presentation skills, similar to the courses I give to executives at HEC Paris.

A little context, to save you from being perplexed:

  • Before I began, each of the start-ups gave a 1-minute pitch of their company, and I refer back to these at some points.
  • The team at Le Camping have edited it together quickly, and while the sound quality is very good, the video quality (from a fixed camera) is not the best, although that hardly matters since they’ve chosen to make the slides much larger than me in the ‘montage’. Perhaps my slides were considered more attractive than my face!
  • The slides are mostly in sync with one or two small hiccups. But considering this was being recorded for internal use and not by a professional team, I think they’ve done a fine job. And it’s shared for free so that’s excellent value for money!

That’s all – so if you have 90 minutes to learn about better presentations, sit back and enjoy. And if you’d like a similar talk at your company, school or organisation, or a full training course – in English or French – our contact details are at http://ideasonstage.com.


Expect the best – or the worst

January 24, 2011

As I write, my two sons are suffering with flu, and I am at home looking after them. Naturally, I am filling up on fruit, vegetables and vitamins in an effort to avoid catching their illness. Equally naturally, I am on the watchout for signs that indicate I might be falling ill.

Sometimes you find what you look for, and sometimes you find what you expect to find. Often the slightest clue might be taken as proof of what you expect to happen. So in my situation, if I sneeze, then of course I’m getting flu. If I feel a slight stiffness in my legs, then of course I’m getting flu. Even if I’m not, that’s the impression I get.

We’re predisposed to give excessive credence to things which support our beliefs or expectations, and to dismiss things which do not. That goes just as much for communication as it does for hyperchondria. What does it mean for you and your presentation?

If the audience is expecting to be bored, there’s a good chance they will be.

If the audience expects you to be a poor presenter, it will only take a few ums and ahs or a slightly monotonous delivery and they’ll switch off.

If the audience expects death by PowerPoint, the merest appearance of a set of bullet-points or the slightest glimpse of Comic Sans will be enough to confirm their expectations and remove any chance that they might listen to you and take your message seriously.

So what can you do about this? It comes down to two key points:

  1. Set positive expectations
  2. Meet or exceed them

It’s easier said than done, of course, but with a little thought it’s possible to set expectations which are positive and yet realistic, giving you a chance of meeting them.

The expectations will have to be positive, because if you set people up to expect something unprofessional, they’ll probably find what they’re looking for.

It’s also key to make them expect something positive, not just hope for it, and if you tell them it will be good but they don’t believe it, then their expectations will still be negative.

There are many ways to set expectations. You can begin by telling the audience what they are going to hear, or by making a controversial statement which will arouse the audience’s interest, or by asking a question which you will proceed to answer. Here are some examples:

Today, I’m going to show you why document security should be your number one concern – and a solution which will dramatically reduce your risks.

Your company’s single biggest cost is the lack of document security.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could set a document to self-destruct at the first sign of a leak? Well, you can. Here’s how.

Equally, setting expectations begins with the title of your talk, the introduction before you take the stage, any information people have about you and your talk beforehand (brochure, programme, etc), and your reputation. If you have a reputation as a famous author, for example, you might get away with a less professional delivery than an unknown simply because the audience will expect you to have something worthwhile to say and will persist longer before switching off.

Of course, once you’ve set your positive expectations, you then need to live up to them. Which involves a clear structure, good use of storytelling techniques, strong oratory and (possibly) great visuals.

If you can set positive expectations, and meet or exceed them, then your audience should be hot for your message – and you won’t catch a cold on stage.


Take The Drive-By Test

January 4, 2011

Driving through Belgium last year, I was struck by some large road safety advertisements along the motorways. Usually they are clear and simple, but these were horrific. No, they didn’t show photos of grisly accidents. They were simply like bad presentation slides, with far too much text, and a variety of overly small font sizes.

Perhaps they placed them strategically in the places where there would be the most traffic congestion, because it was impossible to understand every word while driving past at 120km/h – at least not without staring constantly at them instead of at the road, and thus increasing the risk of an accident, which I am sure was not their intention.

These just had too much text, and too much small text, with visual pollution by the logo in the bottom-left, and they were not helped by using photos of seven top Belgian managers, most of whom were not recognised by my Belgian friends, who – instead of thinking about the road safety message – were first trying to work out who the people were, and then trying to fathom why they were appearing in a road safety ad. Frankly I’ve never seen a more useless ad campaign, and I can’t believe anyone would sanction something so dangerously distracting in the name of road safety.

But it did make me realise an important lesson for slide design.

A good slide is like a good road sign or roadside advertisement – it should be clear, simple, high-impact, quick to understand, and easy to remember.

A great example of this was Trevor Beattie‘s original Wonderbra advertisement many years ago. It featured a model (Eva Herzigova) looking down at her Wonderbra-clad chest with the two-word caption: “Hello boys.” It was snappy, quick to understand (even with its neat play-on-words), and extremely memorable. It may have caused some accidents among excitable male drivers, but it was extremely effective with its female target market.

(Yes, even this had some tiny text at the bottom stating available sizes. Nobody noticed it then either.)

So based on this realisation, I tell my students that when they are designing slides, they should give each of them the drive-by test. Imagine you are driving down a fast road (motorway, freeway, autobahn, etc.) at the maximum speed limit, and you see your slide on a large sign by the side of the road. In the time it takes you to whizz past, did you see it and understand it? If so, good. If not, it needs more work.

Why is this an important comparison?

When driving fast, you need to understand road signs while concentrating on your driving. The sign must never distract you so much that you are no longer focusing on the challenge of driving safely. Likewise, when watching a presentation, you should be focusing on the presenter, what she is saying and how she is saying it, and not reading her slides – because as regular readers will already know, you can’t read and listen simultaneously. So as a presenter, you should ensure your slides are simple and clear enough to help get your message across, without reducing the audience’s attention to what you are saying.

If your slide is simple and clear enough to be understood by someone driving past at top speed, it’s good enough to be on the wall behind you.

To finish, and to cement the road sign = slide analogy in your mind, here’s a hilarious video about designing a road sign. How many slides are designed this way? Too many… This is a great example of why simplicity and clarity for your audience must be your utmost priorities when designing slides.


On time, every time

November 24, 2010

One of the main annoyance factors about many presentations is that they finish late. This shows a total lack of respect for the audience, who most likely have something else to do afterwards, and are probably bored of listening anyway. I have been in this situation, and don’t remember anything about the last part of those talks except my extreme annoyance and frustration.

Don’t overrun. Under any circumstances. Don’t even ask permission to overrun, because many of your audience members will sheepishly accept in order not to annoy you, but they will resent you for it.

Another problem is that in a huge effort to avoid overrunning, many presenters will rush through the last part of their presentations, which are often the most important parts, and thus sabotage their conclusions. This isn’t any better than overrunning.

My advice is threefold:

  1. Plan not to fill the whole time. If you have 15 minutes, plan to speak for 8 or 9 minutes and leave time for questions (and prepare a few sample questions in case your audience doesn’t ask any). That way if things take a bit longer than you planned, you still won’t overrun.
  2. Time your presentation (you are planning to rehearse it several times, aren’t you?): split it into certain sections, time each section during rehearsals, and watch the clock while you are presenting so you know whether you are ahead of time or not.
  3. Plan a part of your presentation which is towards the end (but not part of the conclusion) which you could easily decide to skip if required. This way, you don’t rush anything, you just miss out a particular message which is perhaps not so important. Often I will do this by skipping over videos or only showing part of them, for example.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to pace your presentation well, avoid rushing anything, and finish in good time to allow your audience to ask questions – and to leave on time. They’ll be most grateful.


Don’t push – make them pull

November 18, 2010

This week I’ve been giving a training course with Ideas on Stage, and we’ve had a fantastic group which has participated very actively. It’s been a great exchange.

When you attend a presentation, lecture or course, how often is it really an exchange? Most times, it’s just a question of the lecturer / presenter / speaker broadcasting something to the audience, and hoping that they will take some of it in. Yet we don’t usually internalize very much when we merely hear something, particularly when it is pushed at us.

Communication is a two-way street. Connecting with your audience and making your presentation a real communication in which they play an active role can enhance the experience immeasurably. Here’s why.

  • People take in more when they are truly attentive. This doesn’t happen much when you are bombarding them with boring bullets. However, when they are actively participating in an exchange, they are far more likely to be paying attention.
  • ‘Pull’ communication is far more effective than ‘push’. That is to say, when people actively listen for information, they are more likely to take it in than if you push something on them. It’s the difference between selling on the telephone to somebody who called you, and trying to sell to somebody whom you cold-called. You have to make your audience want to pull the information from you. For example, raise questions in their minds which they will want answered, and then they will listen for the answers.
  • Furthermore, when your audience is in ‘pull’ mode, they are preparing a suitable hole in their minds into which you can slot your message; and when they participate in the discussion by asking clarifying questions or directing a conversation in a particular direction, it is so they are sure to receive the answers they need to allow your message to fit into their reality tunnel.

This last part takes quite some understanding, but to simplify it, imagine that each person’s mind is like a jigsaw puzzle made up of all their beliefs and memories. Anything new needs to fit in with the rest of the puzzle, otherwise it will be rejected – or distorted into something which does fit. To get your message to slot in, you need to find a piece of their puzzle, and shape your message so that it fits next to this existing piece.

That’s very hard for any presenter, particularly when you have a large audience, although you can increase your chances by putting things in terms they are more able to relate to – for example when Steve Jobs launched the iPod and talked about “1,000 songs in your pocket” rather than the number of gigabytes which aren’t especially meaningful to most people. We can all relate to songs and pockets – just as you can most likely relate to a jigsaw.

Nonetheless it is far easier if your audience can do that hard work for you. All you have to do is to involve them as equal partners in an exchange so they want to pull your messages. Far better than throwing jigsaw pieces at them in the wishful hope that one of them might stick.


Context is King

November 2, 2010

Steve Jobs is great at it. But it only takes a little effort and imagination, and you can be great at it too. Great, that is, at putting things into context so your audience can understand and relate to them.

Of course, it’s the audience’s context that matters. You have to put yourself in their shoes, work out what they know and how they think and feel, and find something which is meaningful to them. It’s all about using something they understand to help them understand something new.

This post was inspired by the picture below, by Kai Krause (kindly shared under a Creative Commons license), which shows the true size of Africa by cleverly fitting other countries inside it. For people who do not know Africa well, but are well aware of the immensity of China, India and the USA, this is a great example of using something they do know to show them something they perhaps do not. (More examples below.)

There is a sound scientific basis for this. We all have our own reality tunnel, which means that we see new things in the context of everything we already know or have already experienced. If we can’t fit something in, we’ll either ignore it, or distort it – subconsciously – so that it does fit with our own reality. (The filters of generalization, deletion and distortion will be familiar to students of NLP.)

Therefore you have far more chance of getting your message across successfully and undistorted if you purposely relate it to something your audience already knows or understands. It’s like giving them a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and showing them where it should go.

Here are some other examples of putting things into context.

iPad sales. Steve Jobs announced in June 2010 that several million iPads had been sold since the recent launch. It’s hard to relate to several million of anything. It’s a big number, but is it a good or bad sales figure?

But Jobs hadn’t finished. He then announced that it was the equivalent of one iPad every three seconds. Now that you can imagine. Visualize an iPad coming off the production line every three seconds. Visualize a huge queue of people in an Apple store each with an iPad in their hand, and how many sales assistants would be needed to get one out of the door every three seconds. That’s something we can imagine and relate to. For the financial thinkers among us, that’s also a large chunk of profit every three seconds. Four months on, I don’t remember the sales figure, but I do remember ‘one every three seconds’.

Paper usage. Here’s one I used back when I was selling print outsourcing. I was working with the Brazilian subsidiary of a large US corporation, and I needed to grab their executives’ attention on the importance of saving paper and optimizing their print infrastructure. So I calculated their annual paper usage, and knowing that several million pages would elicit a ‘so what’ response because they couldn’t relate to it, I worked out how far the paper would stretch if laid end-to-end.

I then asked them how far they thought the paper trail would stretch, and when they had no idea, I was able to show them the answer on a slide similar to the one below. Their jaws hit the floor. This was something any Brazilian could relate to, and the idea of their paper trail going all the way through the Amazon (particularly since paper uses trees) hit them hard. I think that was the slide which won us that multi-million dollar contract.

Back to the Mac. Here’s another Apple example, from its recent Back to the Mac event where Apple tried to convince everyone that for all the success of their iPods, iPhones and iPads, they haven’t forgotten the Mac.

Apple COO Tim Cook talked about Mac sales, which are worth $22 billion, but again, he put this big and unimaginable number into context by adding that if Apple only sold Macs, it would be #110 on the Fortune 500 – i.e. the 110th biggest company in America. That’s something people can relate to far more easily.

RECAP

Each of these examples is about using something people already know or understand, in order to help them to learn or understand something new. It requires you to get inside your audience’s head, to think the way they think, and to know what they know. Good presenters do this anyway.

Great presenters then use that empathy to communicate their messages in a way which is not only easy to understand, but which people want to remember.


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